Charters & Choice

A central Ohio church has appealed the Ohio Department of Education's denial of its application to become a charter school authorizer (more on the story here, subscription required):

Brookwood [Presbyterian Church], doing business as Brookwood Community Learning Center, submitted a 49-page application to the ODE in November 2007 for approval as a charter school sponsor.

The church said that instead of reviewing application materials, the ODE determined that "neither the national Presbyterian church nor Brookwood Presbyterian Church is eligible to apply to become a sponsor" because they are not "education oriented" entities as required under state law.

"Despite the fact that nothing in the Ohio Revised Code prohibits a religious organization as such from ... being approved as a sponsor of community schools in Ohio, ODE's decision made it clear that the applicant's status as a church alone was a disqualifying fact in the eyes of ODE: 'also please know that no church has been approved as a sponsor,'" the church told justices.

It is true that no churches serve as authorizers in Ohio, but church-related organizations are certainly active in the charter sector with the knowledge and approval of the state.????Educational Resource Consultants of Ohio (ERCO) authorizes more than twenty charter schools in the Buckeye State.???? It was founded by Christ Tabernacle Ministries and the church still retains the rights to ERCO's trade name.???? Another state-approved authorizer, St. Aloysius Orphanage, oversees more than 30 schools and has deep roots...


While we at Fordham view the results of the much talked about Hoxby charter study as encouraging and a good rebuttal to charter critics, here's a reminder of the antagonism toward charters in Ohio.??

In this week's Ohio Education Gadfly, we critiqued a report that called for a "scaling back" of charters in Ohio (by Policy Matters, a union-backed organization). Namely, it made broad claims that charters get an unfair "head start" despite using kindergarten test scores that the Ohio Department of Education itself says "do NOT measure school readiness." Also, the report cited literature that charters perform worse than district schools (we pointed out that it failed to mention Hoxby's report disproving claims that charters steal the better students) and didn't distinguish between Ohio cities where charters are doing well and where they are doing poorly.

The author responded quickly to our post, arguing that higher kindergarten test scores among Ohio charter students (despite the fact that not all charters serve kindergarteners) is evidence of cream-skimming and that charters are not reaching Ohio's hardest-to-education children. He also criticizes Fordham for being an "outspoken charter advocate" and says that current charter policy in Ohio "weakens efforts to create a stronger system." And apparently Hoxby's critique wasn't relevant to mention because she studied students in another state. Instead of trying to ask broad questions about how/why New York has a successful climate for charters - the author prefers the easier (and more politically popular) suggestion...

Eric Ulas

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation is a charter-school authorizer in our home state of Ohio and we currently oversee six schools in Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, and Springfield.??In the Buckeye State, academic performance of schools is gauged by both student proficiency rates and progress (using a "value-added " measure).??Schools are expected to help students make one year or more of academic progress annually and are given a value-added ranking of "below," "met," or "above" corresponding with how much growth their students made. We're proud of the academic progress our schools made last year compared to their district and charter peers. The following chart shows the percent of students in schools by "value-added" rating for Fordham-authorized schools, the home districts in which they are located, and charter schools in the state's eight major urban areas.

Percent of Students in Fordham-authorized Schools, Home Districts, and "Big 8" Charter Schools by Value-Added Rating, 2008-09

Source: Ohio Department of Education interactive Local Report Card


We commented on the new British Tory plan for education in last week's Gadfly. With Labor falling out of favor, it looks like the May 2010 election will swing in the conservative's favor and at the heart of the conservative education platform is a "radical" new plan to allow independently-operated publically-funded schools. (We, of course, call these charter schools.) But whether or not the idea will work is really dependent on the abilities of the Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families: Michael Gove. He's a wiry professorial MP with a non-Etonian pedigree (a rarity for Parliament conservatives) whose kids carpool with David Cameron's. This excellent Times UK piece has more.


Yesterday in his column, Jay Mathews asks a question that plagues many of us:

"How do parents evaluate the schools their children may attend and escape the heartbreak of buying a great house that turns out to be in the attendance zone of a flawed school?"

Mathews proceeds to list "10 Ways to Pick the Right School," - suggestions like do your research, visit the school, check performance data, etc. But at least one resident of Columbus, Ohio, has come up with his own solution to avoid putting his kids in low-performing schools-- buy a $1 million dollar home in the city, rent a small apartment in a neighboring excellent school district and send your kids there, then sue the school district and the state superintendent when they try to stop you.


Today's Education Gadfly and Wall Street Journal editorial both capture the most important news about Caroline Hoxby's well-publicized study on NYC charters ??? she rebuts the argument that charters' success rests on ???creaming??? the best students from district schools.

As the WSJ tells it:

The study nullifies any self-selection bias by comparing students who attend charters only with those who applied for admission through the lottery, but did not get in. "Lottery-based studies," notes Ms. Hoxby, "are scientific and more reliable."

In other words, she compares charter versus district school students without the worry that charter students are somehow different, not just demographically or academically, but because their parents may be more concerned about their educations (as evidenced by their choosing a charter). The comparison students/parents made that same choice, and they fared worse when left in a district school.

That's a pretty good rebuttal to charter critics like Richard Rothstein and Lawrence Mishel , who have argued (in part) that KIPP's success is over-stated because parents there are more motivated. (Rothstein has also argued that charters may not work well for kids whose parents are simply not motivated???Hoxby's analysis can't address that question.)

Yet Jonathan Gyurko (who certainly supports NYC charters) thoughtfully points out that it's not a perfect rebuttal. Hoxby herself suggests charters may indeed be getting better students (because the rejected students subsequently did relatively well in district schools, even if not as well as they would have...


This weekend saw a flurry of news stories on education in Ohio, and Fordham was in the middle of these in our usual roles of analysts and prognosticators.

The Columbus Dispatch chronicled the struggles and triumphs of KIPP Journey Academy and Building Excellent Schools' Columbus Collegiate Academy, both of which are authorized by the Fordham Foundation. Columbus Collegiate was applauded for delivering excellent results in its start-up year; while the paper noted KIPP Journey's first-year hiccups and offered reasons for hope going into the new school year.????The Dayton Daily News highlighted Pathway School of Discovery, a charter school operated by National Heritage Academies that is the city's only A-rated elementary school. The Cleveland Plain Dealer shared that even though 65 percent of Cleveland charter school students, and 71 percent of their district peers, attend schools rated D or F by the state, some of the state's highest performing charter schools operate in that city, including Citizens Academy, Cleveland Entrepreneurship Preparatory School, and the Intergenerational School.???? All three articles cited Fordham's annual analysis of Ohio school performance data (conducted in partnership with our friends at Public Impact).

Also this weekend in the Dayton Daily News op-ed pages: Terry explored the challenge of rating schools fairly based on academic performance and Jamie explained how Ohio could benefit from retaining the talented young people we lose to Teach for America each year....


State Superintendent of??Louisiana??Paul Pastorek says the state will retain control of RSD for at least a few more years--and maybe forever. In a recent poll conducted in New Orleans, schools were found to be the number one improvement area in a pre- and post- Katrina comparison. It seems the state and people of New Orleans are wary of re-entrusting their schools to the New Orleans Parish School Board, especially in the wake of this improvement (and the Board's terrible history). State takeovers used to be a temporary relief tactic, reserved only for the most wayward of districts, and implemented only long enough to get the troublesome municipality back on the right track. Will Louisiana blaze yet another trail and implement permanent state control over the city of New Orleans? And will other states, perhaps with cities that need a Katrina-esque "do-over" (like Michigan's Detroit), follow suit?


The U.S. Open starts on Monday and the opening ceremony will have a special guest: Andre Agassi. The United States Tennis Association plans to celebrate the charitable work of his post-tennis retirement, specifically the founding of a charter school in Las Vegas, Nevada!


I'm just as outraged as Jamie about the general American populace's ignorance about charters... but I can't say I'm surprised. Take for example this survey of federal spending from the U.S. Census Bureau. Here's how they define charters:

The data in this report include only those charter schools established and administratively controlled by another government entity (e.g. universities, cities, counties, or public school systems). The data for these "public charter schools" are collected as separate, individual units, or are included with the data for their chartering government. Charter schools that do not meet Census Bureau criteria for classification as a government entity are considered "private charter schools" and are not included in this report.

In order for a charter school to be classified as a "public charter school" it must meet the same requirements as any other government. It must be an organized entity, with substantial autonomy, and government character. Typically if the schoolboard is appointed by public officials then the charter school would be classified as governmental. A few "public charter schools" are run by public universities, and municipalities. However, most charter schools are run by private nonprofitorganizations and are therefore classified as private.

HUH? No wonder everyone's confused when a freaking federal department can't even get it right. I don't know what a private charter school is, but if you see one in the wild, snap a photo and we'll submit it as a new species.

It surely doesn't help, either, that states from...